After there was Kentucky Fried Movie there was The Naked Gun, but before that there was this. It’s Airplane!, with an exclamation mark. It’s one of those David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker spoof flicks, and this one is an obvious spoof on Airport, as will be seen.
This came out in 1980 and stars Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty along with a host of front-line talent and was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Hey! Elmer Bernstein scored the music. I watched it on Amazon Prime Video.
Elmer Bernstein notwithstanding, the opening scene features a score by John Williams. It starts with the ominous two chords played on a cello, but it’s not a shark stalking prey from below, it’s the tail fin of an airliner we see poking through a cloud bank as the theme builds to a climax, and we finally see it. It’s the Airplane!
The spoof runs wild. Elaine Dickinson (Hagerty) is an airline stewardess arriving for her flight. The public address system, in a female voice, is advising passengers the white zone is for loading and unloading passengers. A male voice reminds us the red zone is not for stopping at any time. This goes back and forth, eventually getting personal between the male voice and the female voice, devolving into name calling. And no wonder. The voices were provided to the movie by the husband and wife team who did actual airport announcements. This is going to be funny.
Yes, we recall airline flights in those days. Most of all we enjoyed encountering Moonies at the airport offering us gifts and soliciting money.
Hays is former military pilot turned cab driver Ted Striker, desperate to rekindle his romance with Elaine. He parks his cab on the sidewalk in front of the terminal, takes a passenger, sets the meter running, then enters the terminal, never to return. Elaine brushes him off and boards her flight. Ted pursues, purchasing a ticket on Elaine’s flight. Given the option, he requests a smoking ticket. Get it? A smoking ticket. That’s funny.
Aboard Elaine’s flight, Ted recounts his story of personal ruin, literally boring his seat mate to death. She hangs herself.
Flashback! Ted recounts how he met Elaine as a young flight officer in the Navy, setting the world standard for “anachronistic.” By the time this movie came out everybody who ever flew in World War Two was over 50.
Due to lack of space, I am not including images of the two girl scouts, in scout uniforms, brawling in the night club.
On board the flight, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker continue their spoof, with two passengers who speak nothing but Jive, requiring subtitles. A sweet old lady, who is fluent in Jive, translates for the stewardess.
The flight deck features Peter Graves as the pilot and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the co-pilot. A lot of fun is played with names. The pilot’s name is Oveur, and the co-pilot’s name is Roger. Confusion abounds, since “roger” and “over” are terms used in voice radio communication.
Even more more than confusion arises when Elaine brings a young passenger forward to visit the pilot and co-pilot. Pilot Oveur displays an unhealthy interest in the young boy (“Have you ever seen a grown man naked?”), and Elaine hustles the kid back to his parents.
Everybody who ate the fish gets deathly sick. That includes the pilot and the co-pilot. There is nobody left to fly, much less land, the airplane. Where have we seen this plot device before? A ZAZ regular is Leslie Nielsen, who plays Dr. Rumack, here sizing up the situation.
Ted’s sad tale continues to take its toll, as another passenger, obviously a former officer of the Japanese Army, commits ritual suicide rather than endure additional torture. Ultimately a final passenger, apparently a Sikh, douses himself with gasoline and prepares to ignite it. Just in the nick of time, Ted is called forward to take over the controls, and the man extinguishes his match.
Everybody recalls this scene from Airport.
Meanwhile, passengers enjoy the in-flight movie.
Of course, Elaine and Ted do get the plane down, with Dr. Rumack coming forward periodically to give encouragement, and everybody goes home.
ZAZ went on to make Top Secret, which I recently reviewed and scheduled for posting in June. The trio produced additional Naked Gun sequels, which I do not intend to review, and Ruthless People, which I do.